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  1. NUMBERS Studies in the Pentateuch

  2. A Play with 3 characters • The Title: Israel in the Wilderness • The anti-hero: Israel • The stooge: Moses • The critic: God Pentateuchal Studies

  3. 1. Israel • A complaining people • Lack of food (Num. 11:4-35) • Lack of water (Num 20:2-13) • A rebellious people • Against Moses (Num 12:1-15) • Against God ( Num 16:1-40) • A cowardly people • Afraid of Canaan (Num. 13:25-14:38) Pentateuchal Studies

  4. Rebellion against Moses • By Aaron and Miriam (Num. 12:1-15) • Moses' marriage to a Cushite woman is mentioned as the cause of tension (Num. 12:1) but in reality Aaron and Miriam wondered why God did not speak through them since they were Moses' brother and sister respectively • God settled the dispute by confirming the special role of Moses and then punished Miriam with leprosy - Moses interceded for his sister and the leprosy was removed although she had to go through a period of cleansing - Aaron was not plagued with leprosy probably because as priest, Israel could not afford to have him unclean - in a sense he shared in Miriam's disgrace Pentateuchal Studies

  5. Rebellion of the people after the spies' report (Num. 13:25-14:38) • The 12 spies who returned from investigating Canaan all agreed it was a beautiful and rich place and that it was defended by seasoned, strong warriors • Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, argued God would give Israel the land if Israel had faith - the other 10 spies disagreed not believing that Israel even with God's help could take the land • When Moses sided with Caleb and Joshua, the people wanted to elect a new leader and return to Egypt - they preferred "safe, known" slavery to "dangerous, facing the unknown" freedom • God punished the rebellion by allowing only Caleb and Joshua from that entire generation to enter Canaan - the others would die in the wilderness Pentateuchal Studies

  6. Rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num. 16:1-40 • Again the question was if all the people were chosen, why did Moses have such a special place - Korah in particular was a Levite who worked in the tabernacle and apparently wanted more authority • God again confirmed the special position of Moses and caused the earth to swallow up Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their entire families (cf. Josh 7:22-26) • Any rebellion against Moses can also be considered a rebellion against God since Moses was God's chosen leader Pentateuchal Studies

  7. 2. Moses • Moses the rebel (Num. 20:2-13) • Moses the Intercessor (Exodus 32) • Moses the humble servant Pentateuchal Studies

  8. Moses the rebel? • Moses' rebellion (Num. 20:2-13) • When the people complained of the lack of water, God instructed Moses to speak to a rock and water would come out • Moses instead struck the rock twice with his rod much like he had done earlier (Exod. 17:2-7) • Interestingly enough water still gushed forth - Moses' disobedience did not preclude God meeting the people's need • Moses' disobedience prevented him from entering Canaan - the punishment has always seemed extreme to many since Moses spent 40 years obeying God and leading and interceding for a recalcitrant people • The entire chapter speaks of death - Miriam' death is reported at the beginning (Num. 20:1) and Aaron's at the end (Num. 20:22-29) - Edom's refusal to allow Israel to pass through its territory meant the death of any hope that even distant relatives would rejoice in Israel's homecoming (Num. 20:14-21) - the announced death of Moses fits the morose nature of the chapter Pentateuchal Studies

  9. Moses the Intercessor • As an intercessor Moses represented God to the people and the people to God - the best example of this role is Exodus 32 - in this account Moses pled with God for mercy upon His people but then angrily denounced Aaron and the people to show them how angry God was with their behavior and lack of faith • Moses was one of the few people in history who were willing to stand between God and the people and negotiate with both sides - the role of intercessor is a dangerous and thankless one which requires courage and genuine concern Pentateuchal Studies

  10. 3. God • God of concern and patience • Providing • Forgiving • Guiding • God of wrath • Numbers 11 • Numbers 21 Pentateuchal Studies

  11. God of concern and patience • Provided for their physical needs with manna, meat, and water • In at least one instance, He overlooked the people's sin and simply warned them again (Exod. 16:27-30) • Willing to give the people second chances - but it was Moses' intercession which accomplished this - Moses twice appealed to God's honor and name to prevent God from destroying the people (Exod. 32:11-14, Num. 14:13-19) Pentateuchal Studies

  12. A God of wrath and destruction • Once when the people complained, God sent a fire to consume some of the people (Num. 11:1-3) :just the complainers? • When the people craved meat, God gave it to them - but when He sent the quails, He changed His mind and sent a plague upon the people while the meat was still in their mouths • Another time when the people complained about the food, God sent fiery serpents which bit and killed the people - a bronze serpent was made and placed atop a pole so that those who were bit could look at the bronze serpent and not die (Num. 21:5-9) • Twice God declared that He would destroy Israel and begin again with Moses (Exod. 32:9-10, Num 14:12) - only Moses' intercession for the people spared them (also see Num. 16:20-24) Pentateuchal Studies

  13. Balaam and his donkey • (Num. 22:1-24:25) • Balaam was a non-Israelite prophet hired by King Balak of Moab to curse the Israelites who were approaching Moab - Balaam refused to go unless God stated that would be acceptable - God finally agreed to let Balaam go but warned Balaam to say only what God told him Pentateuchal Studies

  14. Concerning the donkey • Chief problem is why God commanded Balaam to go and then tried to stop him (cf. Exod. 4:24-26) - perhaps God simply wanted to emphasize His power and Balaam's responsibility to obey completely • Text plays down the fact that the donkey talked - crucial point is that Balaam listened and heard God (as in the account of Moses and the burning bush - Exod. 3:1-4) • Perhaps to the Hebrews, Balaam's instruction by his donkey was a joke - "Who guides non-Israelite prophets? Donkeys. Who guides Israelite prophets? God of the Heavens and the Earth." Pentateuchal Studies

  15. Balaam in later thought • God used this non-Israelite prophet to demonstrate that His influence extended not only over Egypt and Israel but over the other nations as well • There is nothing in the account to suggest Balaam was an obstacle to Israel (cf. Micah 6:5) although later writers implied as much (e.g., Deut. 23:4-5, Josh. 24:9-10, Neh. 13:2, 2 Peter 2:15-16, Rev. 2:14) • It seems that later (Christian) thought developed the idea of Balaam into a symbol Pentateuchal Studies

  16. THEOLOGICAL SUMMARY • The two major genres, law and journey report (cf. 36:13), each speak to the question of a dynamic (changing) relationship between God and people. • The laws (differing in this respect from Exodus and Leviticus) are subject to modification as a result of circumstances. Even laws are contingent. • The itinerary, while straightforward (from Sinai to the land of Canaan), becomes tortuous, given Kadesh Barnea. So the way of the journey is also contingent. • The portrait of this interaction, very much two-way in Numbers, differs markedly from Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, where it is predominantly one-way (God to people). Pentateuchal Studies

  17. So what is the theology of Numbers? • The agenda is about cult and governance. Hence, the theology turns about purity, but also about authority and leadership—its legitimation through appointment and enablement, procedures for transfer of leadership, and designation of responsibilities. • God is a God of order (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40). From the book’s structure, attention is on God as lawgiver, guide, and promise-keeper, and on a people’s defections from God. • In short, the theology of Numbers centers on God as caring and so fully involved with his people en route to their destination that even people’s defections from him cannot thwart his promise to them. Pentateuchal Studies

  18. CANONICAL CONTEXT (1) • In some ways Numbers with its laws anticipates Deuteronomy, and with its journey to the land, including military campaigns, anticipates the book of Joshua. • Single themes in Numbers reappear elsewhere. Israel’s poets incorporate the rebellion motif (Pss. 78:12-55 [note v. 52]; 106:13-33). • The prophets have less to say about sacrifice than Numbers and more to say about repentance, a subject on which Numbers is virtually silent. • The subject of Yahweh’s holiness (marked in Leviticus) is echoed by Ezekiel, who also has much to say about “glory” and the presence of Yahweh (cf. 40-48). • Wilderness themes, oppositely assessed, appear in the prophets (Jer. 2:2; Ezek. 20:10-26). {62} Pentateuchal Studies

  19. CANONICAL CONTEXT (2) • As for the New Testament, Christ is the “star” out of Jacob and the “scepter” out of Israel (Num. 24:17). • Following the interpretation model of typology, Christ is said to embody in a fuller way that represented by the manna (John 6:22-59) and the water from the rock (John 4:1-15; 7:37-39), being himself the rock (1 Cor. 10:4). • The lifting up of the Son of man is compared to the raising of a bronze snake (John 3:14; cf. Num. 21:4-9). • On a more structural basis, W. Swartley (7, 44-94, 95-113) argues that Israel’s larger story, including the wilderness segment, is reflected in the structuring of the synoptic Gospels and in the journey motif there. Pentateuchal Studies

  20. CANONICAL CONTEXT (3) • Like Israel, the church is a chosen people (1 Pet. 2:9). • Leaders are to teach the word and be examples of holiness (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9); • They are entitled to material rewards (1 Cor. 9:13-14; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). • Tithing is reiterated (Matt. 23:23; cf. Num. 18). • Warnings to the Corinthians about wrong behavior are illustrated from Numbers (1 Cor. 10:1-11). • The Kadesh Barnea incident is also the basis for a warning in Hebrews 3:17-19 (cf. Jude 5). • Jude’s warnings about rejecting authority and about covetousness are each grounded in Numbers (Jude 11). Pentateuchal Studies

  21. Bibliography • Clines, D. J. A. The Theme of the Pentateuch, JSOTSup 10, 1978. • Coats, G .W. The Murmuring Motif in the Wilderness Traditions of the Old Testament: Rebellion in the Wilderness, 1968. • Douglas, M. In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers, JSOTSup 158, 1993. • Gray, G. B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Numbers, {63} International Critical Commentary, 1903. • Harrelson, W. “Guidance in the Wilderness: The Theology of Numbers,” Interpretation 13 (1959): 24-36*. • Levine, B. Numbers 1-20, Anchor Bible 4, 1993. • Merrill, E. H. “A Theology of the Pentateuch.” In A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, ed. Roy Zuck, 1-87 [59-62]*, 1991. • Milgrom, J. Numbers, The Jewish Publication Society Commentary, 1990*. • Olson, D. T. The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, Brown Judaic Studies 71, 179-86*, 1985. • Swartley, W. M. Israel’s Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story, 1994. • Tunyogi, A. C. The Rebellions of Israel, 1969. • Wenham, G. Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 39-49*, 1981. Pentateuchal Studies